The Coffin Maker: Part 4

One summer, the trees in the wood sprouted leaves a lovely shade of green, translucent, fragile things that filtered the life in gentle shades. The old man sat on deep green moss in the shade near his home, eyes closed and listening to the song of a nearby bird and his mate.

Then foreign sounds entered the forest, an approaching rider silenced the animals. Nature held its breath in waiting. The old man hardly knew what sort of person could seek him now, for he had hardly anything left to offer.

Slowly, a chestnut horse appeared in the clearing, blinking brightly in the sunlight. It shook its head importantly, but its rider was the only thing the old man saw. It was his daughter, grown into a young woman who looked like a portrait of her mother. Slipping from the saddle, she smiled at him. A rose flower tucked heavy curls behind her right ear, and a fine gown scraped the blades of grass below.

“Hello, father,” she said, blinking back the moisture that had begun to gather in her eyes.

“Hello, daughter.” Then she was racing forward, and he was forcing himself from the forest floor, and she was in his arms, smelling of roses. He laughed for the first time in years; his daughter had come home.

“I saw you,” she said as they sat with tea inside the cottage that had not changed almost at all since she had left it. “Don’t ask me how, but I knew--I saw you in such pain, and I couldn’t leave you any longer.” Wide eyes begged for understanding. The father covered her small hand with his own.

“I’ve missed you. But tell me of your adventures.” It was as if he had unleashed a flood. The daughter was all too willing to tell of her grand story but, from it all, he remembered only the end, the part where she fell in love. The emotion shining in her eyes was almost too much for him to bear. He felt a pride and joy in the region of his chest that had been absent for far too long.

The father had not even realized that such a thing could be repaired. In that moment, he stopped imagining Juliet’s empty, still face, and began to picture the way her mouth and eyes would have looked at the news of their daughter’s happiness.

“If only your brother could find such happiness,” he told her as she ascended to her saddle once more the next evening. The daughter was in quite a hurry, as she had left someone rather important waiting for her. The father she left behind was far different than the one she had greeted, and her heart felt lighter for it.

“You could come with me,” she begged, not for the first time. Sadly, the father shook his head, stirring dust motes in the rays of sunshine seeping through the canopy of the forest.

“I won’t leave her.” It was the answer he had already given her many times. The daughter nodded, for she finally understood why. The father stood tall for the first time in many years; never again would he allow himself to bow so low to the pressure of life. He watched his only daughter return to her love and he was glad.

Though the father’s hands were old and tired, he often forced himself to cut wood to use in the fire, though it would never again be so roaring and well-stocked as it had once been, and he often woke to find it had burned itself out. The wood cutter sometimes whittled little things in the wood with the thought that he might one day send them to his grandchildren; soldiers and unicorns, boats and castles, things that they might play with and remember him.

Now one day, his other child returned to him, though in a manner far less stately than his sister. The son returned to the ivy-covered cottage in the woods in a whirlwind of hooves and cloak and chain mail and sword. His golden hair was in a beautiful disarray like a sun burst. The father had the thought, as he looked at the young knight, that he could not fathom how he had raised a child to go to war. Like thunder, the son leapt from his mount.

“Father,” he cried, and it was then the wood cutter knew that his son had not come home for a simple visit.

“You need my help, Sir Son.”

“Always,” the son answered with a boy-like smirk.

“What makes you think I can help you?” The wood cutter’s skin was suddenly riddled with bumps, the ghostly memory of another such encounter assaulting him with chills.

“Father, she is my love, and I know no other who would understand.” Breath catching in his throat, the father surveyed the son’s desperate face, the wrinkles that had begun to form already in his brow. The son was the same age the coffin maker had been when he first laid eyes on Juliet.

“Of course.”

As they sat at the same table where father and daughter had discussed grand adventures, the wood cutter watched the son become a knight before his eyes. The knight had much success and much despair to share with his father, but he cut quickly to the tale.

“She had been transfigured, father.”

“A sorceress then, son?” The knight nodded in sadness and angry impotence, his hands forming fists on the table top.

“Into a doe.” Muscles tensed in the wood cutter’s back as he remembered the crime he had committed against a similar creature, once upon a time. “We must find her.” The knight’s voice held a note of despair.

Silently, the father swore that death would not win this battle. He let the silent promise ring to the sky as he promised his child that he would help him find his doe.

The Father

Shortly after, the huntsman left the cottage with the knight at his side. The sky did its best to cloak them in darkness, but the huntsman remembered the ways of the woods. Though his eyes were old now, his mind was not. Blood pumping with challenge, the huntsman tracked his son’s love.

Time was essential, every moment increasing the chance that the doe would be lost forever. The knight’s palms sweat and his empty chest rang hollowly with phantom beats, faster and faster with every moment.

The forest seemed cold and dark as the hunted, but the huntsman was legendary and the son had faith as only children can have in their parents. Eventually, they came upon a lake that was clear and pearly beneath the moonlight. Both men felt a peace steal over them as they observed it.

And as they stood at the water’s edge, a creature emerged from the sheltering trees. On fragile legs, a velvety doe tiptoed toward the water and lowered her graceful head to drink from its depths. The knight’s heart flew back to his chest and he gasped at the impact, his eyes full of the sight.

To the huntsman, the deer looked just like any other, but he was not surprised that the knight recognized her as his love. The knight raced along the lake’s edge and the doe did not scamper as deer generally do.

The father saw, in the smooth liquid surface, the reflection of a tall and pretty woman with dazzling brown eyes and mahogany braid. She smiled at the knight as he approached with a sad sort love. Reaching out a shaking palm, the knight lay his hand on the doe’s tender snout. In the water, the knight embraced his queen.


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